RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Congress says they have a border security deal which they hope will avert another government shutdown - hope being the operative word here. Early reports say lawmakers are offering $1.375 billion for around 55 miles of barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border. This is just slightly more money than Democrats offered the president late last year before the previous shutdown and far less than the 5.7 billion the president has been demanding. President Trump took his argument to the border last night at a rally in El Paso.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Safety is the birthright of every American, which is why we must finish the wall.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley was in El Paso with the president last night, and he joins us now. Scott, first off, can you just clarify what the president said just there? Why is he talking about finishing the wall?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good point, Rachel. And that was not a one-off ad lib by the president. The supporters who attended that rally in El Paso were issued pre-printed red and white signs with that finish-the-wall slogan. So this appears to be a concerted effort by the administration to make it seem as if the mission of building Trump's wall is already virtually accomplished.
Even before he stepped to the microphone last night, of course, this congressional committee had kind of cut the legs out from under him by approving a compromise that only includes about a quarter of the wall funding the president had been asking for. Trump basically just ignored what was going on in Washington and instead played to his crowd there in the El Paso County Coliseum.
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TRUMP: Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway. They say that progress has been made with this...
MARTIN: We're building the wall anyway. So is that some kind of suggestion laying the groundwork for a declaration of a national emergency?
HORSLEY: Good question. Does that mean that the president is going to sidestep Congress and just build the wall without legislative authorization, which is a move that certainly Democrats and some members of the president's own Republican party have warned him not to do? Or does it simply mean that Trump's going to fall back on marketing, that - those finish-the-wall placards, and basically take the 55 miles of wall this compromise calls for and call that a victory?
MARTIN: Call that a victory. NPR's Scott Horsley. Stay with us, Scott. We'll bring you back. But we're going to turn now to Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. She's a Democrat from Texas whose district includes the city of El Paso. Congresswoman, thanks for being with us.
VERONICA ESCOBAR: Good morning. Glad to be here.
MARTIN: What'd you make of the president's remarks last night from El Paso?
ESCOBAR: You know, the - I only heard what I saw through Twitter. And the - it's just filled with more misinformation. He is continuing to ramp up his rhetoric. He's lying to the American public, not just about El Paso, but about this idea that he's going to finish a wall. It's very frustrating to have that kind of dishonesty come into our community and hoodwink the American public from what is a wonderful, safe, vibrant place.
But we - the community held a counter rally, was - organized more than fifty groups and organizations. And it was beautiful. It was a celebration of El Paso. We all came together with such goodwill and charity and love. And it was amazing.
MARTIN: This is what Beto O'Rourke - Democrat Beto O'Rourke was there giving the keynote at that counter rally. But let me ask you, Congresswoman. It is - is it your belief, then, that any additional wall or barrier will not make El Paso safer?
ESCOBAR: El Paso is safe regardless of the wall that we have there. And so to say a wall will make us safer is to discount exactly what it is that has made us safe and made us safe long before the wall was constructed. Yesterday I held a press conference. And one of my former colleagues, County Commissioner Carlos Leon, who was a longtime police chief, he detailed why we are a safe community. And he credits our safe designation with the implementation of community policing in El Paso.
And community policing, as you probably know, is where local law enforcement works with the community, doesn't ask people for their citizenship or their papers and builds community trust. When he implemented community policing in El Paso, we began to see a decline in crime. And that, again, was about a decade before - over a decade before the wall was constructed.
MARTIN: Which President - and President Trump has been suggesting that the wall has been too - that the wall is credited with changing the crime rates in El Paso, which you say is false. Let me ask you about the compromise that lawmakers in Congress have now come up with, this border security deal, roughly $3.75 billion. That's less than the 5.7 the president wants. Are you satisfied with this compromise?
ESCOBAR: I still need to review the details. I heard the broad strokes yesterday and again kind of saw that through Twitter. My team is going to be reviewing all those details this morning. I'm going to be on a flight headed back to D.C., hopefully getting information sometime today. You know, I have a lot of faith in folks on the Democratic side who were on that conference committee. I know their values. And I have a completely open mind, and so I'm going to look at it with an open mind.
MARTIN: Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of Texas, thanks so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.
ESCOBAR: Thank you. Good morning. Bye-bye.
MARTIN: We turn again to NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who was listening in there. So Scott, we haven't heard yet from the White House. But have aides given any indication as to whether or not President Trump is going to support this bill, I mean, even though it's much less than he's been demanding over time?
HORSLEY: So far, the White House has been noncommittal. We are essentially back to where we were before Christmas, when lawmakers had a deal they thought they could live with, and the president blew it up. And that resulted in that 35-day government shutdown. So the White House is going to be studying the details a little bit today, digging into those, taking the temperature of the president's most ardent supporters and maybe weighing the cost of either another government shutdown or some alternative maneuver by the president.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.